Border checks 'unavoidable' after Brexit, warns Michel Barnier
Checks at the border will be "unavoidable" under Theresa May's Brexit plans for Britain to leave the single market and customs union, Michel Barnier has warned.
Brussels' chief Brexit negotiator also told reporters that agreement on a transitional deal after Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019 was "not a given".
After the latest round of Brexit talks between officials in Brussels, he said three "substantial" disagreements remain with Britain over plans for a transition period.
He added: "If these disagreements persist the transition is not a given."
On the issue of the border he told reporters: "Any solution must be precise, clear and unambiguous."
He added: "It is important to tell the truth. A UK decision to leave the single market and to leave the customs union would make border checks unavoidable."
Mr Barnier said that at his meetings with Britain's Brexit Secretary David Davis in London and Brussels this week, it was clear that three "substantial" points of difference remain between the two sides' vision of how the proposed transition period would work.
"The United Kingdom insisted that we should reach an agreement in March on this transitional period," he said. "At the same time, however, our partners set out a certain number of disagreements which I regard as substantial."
- The UK's refusal to guarantee permanent rights to EU nationals who come to live and work in Britain during the transition period;
- The UK's demand for a right to object to the application of any new EU rules and laws introduced during the transition period;
- British wishes to continue participating in the development of new policies in the area of justice and home affairs during the transition.
Mr Barnier said his attitude throughout the negotiations had "not been in the least discourteous or vindictive".
"We never wished to punish the UK - it's totally foreign to my state of mind, and this has been true from the very beginning and this will be true until the very end of the negotiations.
"Quite simply we have to construct a withdrawal agreement which is legally sound and does not give rise to any uncertainty in anyone's mind."
Mr Barnier also said the proposal for the legal text, published this week by the European Commission, provided for "provision which reinforces implementation mechanisms that exist in the EU during the transition period".
He said it was necessary "if there is an infringement of European rules during the transitional period, our usual infringement proceedings, which apply today to all the member states, these usual infringement proceedings may take too long and would not therefore be operational, they would not resolve a possible dispute between the UK and the EU during this very short transition period".
Mr Barnier said: "To be frank, I am surprised by these disagreements. The positions of the EU are very logical, I think.
"The UK wants to enjoy the advantages of the single market, the customs union and common policies. It has therefore to accept all the rules and the obligations until the end of the transition. That's very logical.
"It also has to accept the ineluctable consequences of its decision to leave the EU, to leave its institutions and its policies.
"To be quite frank, if these disagreements persist, the transition is not a given."
Mr Barnier warned: "Time is short - very short - and we haven't a minute to lose if we want to succeed. And we do want to succeed in this orderly withdrawal."